Making Chineseness in Transdiasporic Space: It's a Matter of Ethnic Taste

Heng, Terence. 2010. Making Chineseness in Transdiasporic Space: It's a Matter of Ethnic Taste. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis addresses shortfalls in the sociological literature on diaspora, ethnicity and
ethnicity-making amongst diasporic individuals. My original contribution is an improved and
more nuanced take on diasporic individuals’ ethnicities and the mechanisms through which
these ethnicities are made. I will do this by reconfiguring collectivist versions of diaspora into
an individualised transdiasporic space, and redefining ethnicity as transdiasporic ethnicity.
Transdiasporic ethnicities are made in the social intimacies and distances between individuals
and between their ethnic lifestyles (sets of aesthetic markers). Such distances are affected by
individuals’ ethnic tastes – preferences for or against different lifestyles.

My arguments are based on a study of Chinese Singaporeans and their wedding rituals.
Weddings are microcosms of transdiasporic space – multiple crossroads for intersecting
diasporic journeys and everyday lives. I will employ a visually-focussed form of participant
observation, arguing that the use of photographs with text creates a richer space to do
sociological work. I will also develop a methodological framework of photography as visual
poetry, creating an emotional texture that text alone struggles to achieve.

Chinese Singaporeans engage in outward-facing taste performances which reveal their ethnic
lifestyles to others. Juxtaposed taste performances often lead to aesthetic dissonance, which
encourages individuals to make decisions affecting their ethnic tastes. This tends to result in
social distancing between two socially prominent ethnic lifestyles which were politically
defined and are now part of popular discourse – “heartlander” and “cosmopolitan”. These
lifestyles are often held in tension and tend to be connected to different levels of economic
wealth. Commercial activities in weddings perpetuate such linkages, such that socioeconomic
aspirations often texture ethnic tastes. I will conclude by considering what aesthetic
dissonance says about concepts of ethnic hybridity and syncretism, and propose that a
Chinese Singaporean’s economic life-path continues to be affected by the ethnic lifestyles
she is socially intimate with.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Keywords:

sociology, visual sociology, race, ethnicity, photography, chineseness, singapore, weddings, poetry in social research, diaspora, transdiasporic space, transdiasporic ethnicity, aesthetic dissonance

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Sociology

Date:

September 2010

Item ID:

6489

Date Deposited:

17 Feb 2012 14:12

Last Modified:

21 Jul 2017 14:23

URI:

http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/6489

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